Somewhere in Maryland. It’s an eerie feeling, cycling in the woods, far from civilization. You could die out here and nobody would know for days until your income taxes were late.
The newspaper story would read, “Cyclist tries to fend off copperhead with tennis shoe and dies.”
My wife and I have been doing this remote trail together, but somehow we got split up this afternoon. I don’t know how I lost her. I know she’s biking ahead of me somewhere, but I haven’t seen her in a mile. I’m starting to get worried, thinking about all this copperhead business. I hate snakes.
This trail is full of fatal snake stories. You hear idle chatter from fellow hikers retelling tales about how some hapless soul once got snakebitten on the face by a copperhead while trying to take the snake’s picture.
There are a million chilling tales like this circulating around the trail.
So your senses get very heightened while you’re out here. Which isn’t a bad thing, actually. It’s exhilarating. It makes snacks taste better. Your vision gets sharper. Scenery seems more intense.
After another few minutes, I see my wife in the distance. I am relieved to finally find her. She has stopped on the trail, straddling her bike, waiting for me. Her tiny black silhouette is far away against a cloudy sky. A canopy of oaks drape over her. She doesn’t see me yet.
This woman has been with me for nearly two decades. Sometimes it still feels like we just met last Tuesday.
Oh, how I wish time would slow down.
I’ve been thinking about some deep stuff in the woods this afternoon. It’s easy to do that in this space. It’s probably because you’re always staring at ancient trees that will outlive everyone’s great-great-great grandkids.
And you’re looking at towering volcanic prehistoric rocks that just sit here undisturbed. You think about how these rocks will still be here when the sun gets too tired to keep shining. Long after your bones have become soil pH.
This makes you feel small. Not in a bad way, but in an exciting, thrilling, “this is cool” way. You start to see your own life as a brief flicker of electricity. A lone spark. We blink once and then, snap, it’s over.
I know this all seems morbid, but these thoughts don’t depress you out here. They fire you up. Because you realize that you’re not dead yet.
So you start taking inventory of things you once thought mattered: career, money, retirement, status, possessions, the importance of relief pitching, etc.
And it all just fades into a beige background. None of it matters. Not really. You know in your soul that nobody on their deathbed ever says, “Gee, I wish I woulda had a better paying job.” Or, “Gosh, I wish I woulda invested in more mutual funds.”
No. People who are about to die have it all figured out. They think about one thing only. And that one thing is on the trail with me today. She is silhouetted in the distance, waiting for me.
Long ago we met when I was a lost boy. From the moment we hooked arms we became an instant family. She was Juliet, I was Romeo; she was Elizabeth, and I was Mister Darcy; she was Snow White, I was the Seven Dwarfs.
After our very first date I did not want to leave her on the doorstep of her home. I never wanted her to go back home. I wanted to be her home.
She was feisty, unpredictable, and honest to a flaw. She hated celery, hated licorice, liked corny legal thrillers, loved the color blue, and had the biggest known sticker collection this side of Houston.
We ran up phone bills talking each day and night until one of us fell asleep holding the phone. We went on weekend drives to nowhere. We had a few hellacious arguments.
The day of our wedding we’d only known each other six months. People said I was a fool for getting married so fast. Strange fundamentalist elders appeared out of nowhere and tried to talk me out of the marriage. They told me not to rush into anything.
“You always have plenty of time,” they all said.
But deep in my heart I knew these men were full of a plentiful substance often found in barnyards and litter boxes. Because nobody has “plenty of time.” Nobody. And don’t you ever forget it.
Besides, this was not just a female. I believe that long before the foundations of the planet were poured; long before the stars were flung onto the black night; long before God created the SEC, our love was made.
I think lovers are handcrafted in the workshop of Heaven. And I think we start out as the same singular block of wood. Until one day the craftsman splits us down the middle to make two.
He roughed us out , carved us, gave me a wicked set of buck teeth, divided us, and placed us in separate parts of the world. Then he gave us one earthly occupation. Finding each other.
And somehow we did. Although I don’t know how.
I am getting closer to the silhouette. Soon we are together again. We are alone in the woods with nothing around us but ancient trees. She is crouched low to the dirt.
I approach her from behind. “What’re you doing?” I ask this woman.
“Oh,” she says, aiming her phone at the ground. “I’m taking a picture of a copperhead.”